Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cartoons and free speech

There is an interesting article in Findlaw's Writ on the Muhammad cartoon conflict. The author's thesis is that rather than reflexively casting this as a conflict between free speech and repression, we must analyze this in the context of European law on freedom of speech. Since most European countries have laws that prohibit speech that incites hatred or resentment toward religious groups, their failure to enforce those laws against the publication of the challenged cartoons is properly seen as another example of bias against Europe's Muslim population.

I would take a different view. While people in the United States probably think of European nations as free societies, much like our own, this discussion actually demonstrates that these countries are not free societies. If speech can be punished or prohibited because it is offensive, you're not in a free society; it's as simple as that. I don't necessarily claim that it is the only characteristic of a free society, but limits on speech because they give political or religious offense is a reliable indicator that the society is not free.

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